ARTICLES 
Some autumn alternatives- Part 2
Article by Clive Leviev-Sawyer, The Sofia Echo, 7th-13th October 2005


AT the start of the second part of our journey among the villages near Gabrovo and Veliko Turnovo, we had come to the end of the road.

Following the road north-east from Gabrovo, through the village of Kmetovtsi, we drove the 16km to Bozhentsi, an architectural reserve of about 100 houses beyond which lies only forest. No road was ever built to link Bozhentsi to Veliko Turnovo, a fact that, along with the decision about 40 years ago to declare the village a protected reserve, has done much to distil its character, much like the pure home-made rakias made in the region.
Unsure of the road and parking situation in the village, we parked our car where the tar road gave way to cobblestones, and sauntered in among the first of the 18th century Bulgarian Revival buildings, to be stopped by a Bozhentsi welcome. From a patio next to the tiny post office, a stout blonde woman called out to us that we had to pay a couvert charge to enter the village. As my wife paid the lev fee, I stood silently (my residence status entitles me to pay Bulgarian rather than foreigner prices, which in this case was about double, but I prefer not to get into the arguments that can start when people hear my accent), wondering about the constitutionality and legality of charging Bulgarians to enter a village in Bulgaria. It seemed somewhat of a Passport to Pimlico situation, for those of you who have seen the film.

The settlement is said to date back more than 600 years, when a member of the nobility, Bozhana, brought her family here from a Veliko Turnovo being laid waste by the Ottomans. The village became prosperous, and is believed to have expanded to more than 1000 households, shrinking again when stability and liberation saw people returning to Veliko Turnovo and Gabrovo. In the interval, it became somewhat of an artists and writers colony. (Few of them seemed to have achieved very much; I suspect if I lived in a place that tranquil, indolence might too seduce my work ethic.)


We ambled Bozhentsis cobbled streets, sampled the delicious home-made yoghurt, Turkish coffee, and byalo sladko (a traditional sweet that may be dipped in the coffee), and embarked on a futile search for overnight accommodation. Notwithstanding that a high proportion of the houses offer rooms, it was a long weekend, and almost all were taken. One of the very few left was asking 70 leva for a room, about double the rate usual elsewhere in the village.

Many of the houses appeared to be in private hands, and not only having been sold to foreigners. Within, or just outside, the solid stone walls that characterize the narrow lanes of the village were luxury cars with C (for Sofia) licence plates.
We returned the short distance to Kmetovtsi, which boasts three-star accommodation (and conference facilities, bicycle and video hire, fitness centre, and so on) at the Fenerite hotel complex. With no rooms available at Fenerite that night, we were blessed to find accommodation at a house next door, a true bargain. A clean, large room, complete with complimentary soap and shampoo in the bathroom, 24 leva for two of us. A true bargain because our hosts invited them to join them for supper, at no extra charge, lavishing salads, fish, grilled chicken, home-made rakia and beer on us. Finding out in the course of conversation that both my wife and I are journalists, they asked why the region does not get sufficient publicity for its various festivals...erm, well, we dont have ESP, but we do have e-mail addresses...all you have to do is tell us...

When will people learn that printing a poster and putting it up locally two days before the event wont do the trick?

Well-rested, we headed the following day for Dryanovo. After an early lunch at the monastery, noted in Bulgarian history for the bravery of the detachment of rebels that held out within its walls during the 1876 April uprising, and whose surroundings of sheer stone cliffs mesmerize the gaze, we strolled on along the road beyond the monastery to the Dryanovo Eco-Trail and the Bacho Kiro cave. The cave, named for a hero of the uprising, is lit by electric light and stretches for about 1200m.
Guides and brochures are available in a number of European languages, but we decided to make our own way in the cool recesses of the cave. From there, we essayed a hike part of the way up the steep steps and enchanting glades of the trail, stopping to watch the river surge over the rocks. (Note to self: Give up smoking. Get fit.)

Had we the opportunity to stay longer, we could have chosen accommodation at the monastery, or at a number of nearby hotels, or even, for the undemanding on a sparse budget, a low-cost camping just outside the entrance to the monastery.

With a detour back to Kmetovtsi to change in the room we had now secured at the Fenerite hotel, we made our way up the winding road to the wedding at Sokolski Monastery which was our reason for being in the region that weekend. Built in the 19th century, the monastery, high in the hills 12km from Gabrovo, boasts a breathtaking panorama. As the incantations of the wedding ritual washed over us, there was ample chance to admire the enchanting iconography in the chapel. The incandescent orange autumn sunset that served as backdrop for the wedding photographs was a good moment to vow to return to the region for exploration at greater leisure.

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